Offensive line – As maligned as these guys have been all year, they earned this praise. The Heels had 161 yards rushing and used up plenty of clock in their 49 rushing attempts. The line opened up some sizable holes as the Heels had 14 carries of five or more yards. UNC had 138 yards on the ground in the final three quarters and wore down State's thin defensive line. The line also allowed just three sacks (not bad for them) and did enough to keep the defense off the field and fresh as UNC had the ball for 36:08 compared to 23:52 for State.
Andre Williams – The sophomore is becoming a solid back. He hits the holes hard and runs with power and also has speed. He chewed up a hard earned 75 yards on 23 carries and appeared to get stronger as the game wore on. His 17-yard burst helped Carolina in a seven-play penalty-infested drive that carved 4:17 off the clock in the fourth quarter. On the possession the Heels moved to the State 36 and after a John Lafferty punt, forced State to have to go 80 yards in their final possession of which they fell short.
Darian Durant – The red shirt freshman gave more credence to the theory that he should be UNC's regular QB by connecting on 10 of 14 passes for 128 yards and a pair of scores, both to senior Kory Bailey. He played with great poise, ran well using his strong lower body, checked off receivers properly and managed the huddle with confidence. He carried the ball nine times for 47 yards and appears to escape potential sacks better than Ronald Curry.
Kory Bailey – The Durham senior may be on the verge of playing his best football at UNC. He has three TD catches in the last two games and has taken on a role of leader. His maturity has obviously helped Durant's ascent as a QB, not to mention his acceptance of the newcomer. The first TD catch of the day in the top right corner of the end zone was pure beauty.
Sam Aiken – Aiken may not be able to outdo himself after incredible acrobatic receptions the last two weeks. On Saturday, his complete-flip catch on 3rd and eight from their own 34 gave was good for 28 yards and kept alive the drive that eventually resulted in UNC taking a 10-6 lead in the third quarter.
Defense – Bend but don't break. So what if State's Philip Rivers threw for 306 yards, the Wolfpack only scored nine points. Exactly half of Rivers' yardage came in the fourth quarter but the Heels only allowed a single field goal. The main objective is to keep the opposition out of the end zone and they did that enough to win the game. Great game by defensive back Dexter Reid and linebacker Quincy Monk. It was perhaps the best game by each player since they came to UNC.
Special teams – Suddenly forgotten are the problems that plagued the Heels in losses to Oklahoma and Texas. The punt protection unit has been excellent.
Win in Raleigh – The Heels won in Raleigh for the fourth consecutive time and haven't lost at Carter-Finley since a 24-7 decision in 1991.
Record – After a 0-3 start, the Tar Heels are now 2-3 overall and 2-1 in the ACC.
Late pass defense – Yes, the Heels kept State out of the end zone, but they sure came close to blowing what was a well-earned victory for three intense and physical quarters. Rivers completed passes of 21, 22, 26, 20, 31 and 26 yards in the fourth quarter. On State's final drive they connected on passes of 31 and 26 yards, the latter coming on 3rd and 22.
Not opportunistic enough – The Heels began four possessions in NCSU territory in the first half and came away with just seven points, and that was after a possession that started on the State 27 and was aided by one of three Wolfpack personal fouls in the opening half. Jeff Reed missed a 36-yard field goal and Carolina stalled too often inside the State 40.
Slow start on the ground – While State's thin defensive line was still fresh, Carolina struggled on the ground. The Tar Heels ran the ball nine times in the first quarter for just 13 yards and had runs of one yard or less eight times in the first half.
Ronald Curry – Okay, it must be understood that Curry looked more confident than at any time this year. He appeared a little quicker, threw the ball a little better and seemed to be livelier on the field. He was also, again, a victim of poor circumstances: fumbles, penalties and poor field position. But, he also did some inexplicable things and still under threw short passes and overthrew long ones. He was 7-15 for 58 yards and an interception and was also sacked three times compared to none for Durant. He made some poor decisions, especially ones not expected from a senior, and just didn't play as well as Durant.
The Tar Heels return home to face East Carolina for the first time in 20 years. ECU fans have been saying for some time they are the best program in the state, which should fire up not only UNC's players but also its lethargic fan base. Game time is set for 3:30 but will only be televised on a local station in Greenville. However, the game might well be picked up in markets around the state.
Andrew Jones is in his sixth year covering football and basketball for Inside Carolina. He also in his fourth year as a copy editor and staff writer for the Wilmington Star-News and hosts a nightly radio show on WAAV-AM980 in Wilmington. He has also written for ACCNews and once published The College Game and the former Total Sports. He can be reached via e-mail at: AJWAAV@aol.com.